Animal Crossing: New Horizons; A Two-Month Castaway’s Chronicle

It’s been a little over two months since Animal Crossing: New Horizons graced us with its long-awaited presence and boy, what a crazy couple of months it has been. Like most people I know, I’ve been playing it every day since it came out. Everyone knew that it would be a hit when it eventually released. The hype, the devoted fan base, the years of waiting and tantalising trailers had made sure that when this title finally hit shelves, it would be flying off them immediately. Pair that with the special edition console, and the then-recent release of the Nintendo Switch Lite, and it was an absolute hurricane of success.
But it wasn’t just the buzz surrounding the game’s highly anticipated release that contributed to its near incomparable success.

In this dystopian timeline we’re living in, where people have to stay indoors, friends and families can’t visit each other and social distance is the daily grind, Animal Crossing became a lifeline. A game about friendship, building something from nothing, starting anew. More importantly, a game where people can just hang out and… do nothing together. It seems tedious and dull but in these unprecedented and inherently unfriendly times, New Horizons is the perfect remedy for loneliness and the perfect substitute for going outside.

It should be noted that for long-time fans of the series, New Horizons may be something of an acquired taste for the first week or so. I certainly found it a little hard to swallow when I realised that all the pole-vaulting and path-laying whimsy that the trailers had promised was actually a long wait away. That and the first few days of New Horizons are… well… a bit boring? Don’t get me wrong, I was still excited to load it up every day and see what was new, but I was expecting a game I could play all day, something I would be absolutely glued to.

The first few days of playing, you exhaust all your island’s natural resources quickly. Things like materials found by bashing rocks, branches from trees etc are all in limited supply and you need these to progress. The only way to fast track things like building Blathers’s museum or upgrading the Resident Services tent to an actual building is to use Nook Miles Tickets. Obviously, these require the new, secondary in-game currency aside from Bells; Nook Miles.

At first, hearing the little notification on your Nook Phone telling you you’d reached another milestone and earned a few hundred Miles was exciting. They’re essentially achievements, with the opportunity to earn Miles through recurring daily tasks if you upgrade to the Nook Miles+ program. It’s a neat way to keep you engaged and always have something to do on the island when you’ve run out of rocks to bash, trees to shake and fruit to sell. But it doesn’t necessarily keep you entertained enough to play for hours on end. That kind of gameplay comes later and, depending on if you’re willing to time travel or not, it can take a while.

The exact time stamps for when my island experience began to open up and feel more fully-fledged are a little hazy, but the first week or so on my island was pretty uneventful. Once you populate your island with a few more villagers and you have the museum, the Able Sisters Shop and a decent house though, the pace picks up pretty quickly.

Now about that museum. It’s easily one of the biggest and best improvements in the game compared to earlier titles in the series. Purely from a graphical upgrade standpoint, the detail is gorgeous. The spaces really feel ingenious and have been designed so wonderfully. Not to mention little things like the camera following the living exhibits around their environments when you’re reading the plaques, the photo opportunities, the butterfly conservatory! It’s a really special part of the game and it only gets better with the addition of the art gallery later on.

The art gallery is particularly special and boasts a feature that really makes you wonder why the other exhibits lack it; descriptions and information about the exhibits. Each painting you have displayed in your gallery has a whole little paragraph of genuinely fascinating art history and context relating to the piece in question. I was so surprised and very enthused when I donated my first painting, went to see it and was met with a whole backstory to the piece. Please visit your island art gallery and read about your donated art if you haven’t already. It’s so undeniably cool and an accessible way to introduce younger players to art!

One small hiccup with the art gallery though is the means by which you come to own and subsequently donate these works of art to your local bug-shy Blathers. Jolly Redd’s boat appears WAY too infrequently. Since the art gallery update (released over a month ago at the time of writing) I have had TWO visits from the infamous Canidae Crook. When I first encountered him, I bought a genuine “Perfect Painting“ from him, then bought another piece of genuine art aboard his dodgy boat. Weeks later, he weighs anchor again and I come aboard. The only two ‘genuine’ pieces of art he has for sale are the exact same two that I purchased the first time I saw him. Call it bad luck, but I don’t think that more than one copy of an original piece of art should exist? Guess I’ll just have to wait another few weeks.

Before I continue, I must stress that I adore this game. It almost goes without saying I mean, I’ve played it every single day for over two months. I have a whole word document called ‘Island Development Plans’. New Horizons is, without a doubt, my game of the year so far. It’s one of the most aesthetically pleasing, addictive and genuinely lovely games I’ve ever played. But, much like the console it calls home, it has its issues.

Never before during my time playing on my Switch have I encountered so many infuriating issues with the infamous stick drift as I have in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Whether I’m watering flowers, digging for fossils or laying down paths, the drifting rears its ugly head sometimes to the point where I cannot make my villager standstill. She walks away when I try to take photos, turns around and digs ponds in the wrong place mid-construction etc. But the main offender by far is when she turns away mid-rock bashing chain and digs a hole, breaking the combo and costing me my iron nuggets or worse, my Bells. I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say I’m amazed Nintendo has failed to even address this issue properly, let alone fix it with better joy-cons. It has definitely come between me and my Island too many times to count so if you’re currently dealing with some drift issues, you have been warned.

On the flip-side, there are a few new features that make customising your Island way more involved. The option to place furniture outside is a HUGE improvement and leaves you wondering why it was never implemented in previous titles. Decorating my Island with fences, outdoor furniture and being able to move villagers’ houses even after they’ve moved in is absolutely invaluable. These features really make it possible to build your dream Island right down to the finest details and it is SO rewarding.

Yet again though, the terra-forming and path laying are implemented in such archaic ways. In comparison to the interior decorating system that was brought over from Happy Home Designer and the New Leaf: Welcome Amiibo update, the processes of placing each square of path individually, of hacking away at a cliff face one space at a time and the same for pond digging are painfully tedious. There are third-party Island designing apps that have better systems in place and it really makes me wonder why Nintendo made the decision to have it this way. Maybe it would’ve been a lot of work but to circumnavigate this frankly off-putting mechanic, it would probably have been worth it.

Another decision I can’t fathom is whatever Nintendo decided to do with the villager conversations. The interactions with and between your fellow animal islanders have been massively nerfed it seems. Most times I talk to an animal, I get one bubble of dialogue about the weather and nothing more. Sure, if I talk to them more than once, I might get some decent, entertaining conversation out of them, but that’s only after they comment on how I’m bugging them or “showering (them) with attention”. Not only that but I’ve still yet to have a single house visit from one of my island buddies. In a game all about befriending anthropomorphic animals, I really don’t know what possessed the developers to so heavily limit the dialogue. It’s a gigantic step back and I can only hope that this is maybe improved in an update at some point? Maybe?

One of the main things that’s kept me coming back every single day is something fairly unexpected and that’s the clothes in New Horizons. Not only has Nintendo streamlined the process of putting together outfits and changing saving favourites, but the sheer amount of clothing, the different styles and the different items of clothing are so vast. I look forward to my visit to Able Sisters every day and I almost always leave with something new to add to my wardrobe. My storage is already bursting at the seams but there’s always another cute shirt or some kick-ass shoes to add to it. That and I love the way my villager pouts as she models the different outfits.

I was also crazy excited about the customisation options available for my character right from the get-go. This is something unheard of in mainline titles in the Animal Crossing series so being able to pick my facial features, hairstyle and colour etc was so fresh and exciting. Although, some of the funkier colours and styles are locked behind a Nook Mile paywall…

Now I know I’ve been picking apart everyone’s Switch Sweetheart throughout this 2-month review, but it’s only because I adore the game so much. It’s already so famously such an absolute joy of a game that it pretty much goes without saying by now. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is beautiful. A relaxing, adorable place where you can not only re-live the joys of older titles with a gorgeous new lick of paint but also enjoy all these new, ingenious features that keep you coming back for more. Whether it’s the drive to pay off your mortgage and beautify your home, to build little parks, market squares, hedge mazes, to catch all the fish, all the bugs and unearth every fossil to donate to your museum. All of this and more is why people love this game, and rightly so. But Animal Crossing CAN do better and has some issues I can’t ignore.

Be that as it may, once you pick up this title, I can almost guarantee you will not put it down until you’ve sunk at least 300 hours or more into it. There is something for everyone. Every age group, every type of gamer. The simplicity of Animal Crossing is what makes it so engaging. That and all my villagers threw me a kick-ass Birthday party even in lockdown. Now all we need is some Brewster DLC so I can have my virtual coffee every morning before a long, hard day of Island living.

How has your Island experience been so far? Have you encountered any of the issues I covered? And what content would you like to see added to the game via DLC? Let us know!

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